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What is 514?

At 3:30 a.m. on Saturday morning, May 6, the phone wake-up call alarm went off. Fellow Albert Lea veteran Ken Skogheim and I managed to get ready and check out of the Bloomington, MN Comfort Inn Motel on time to catch the 4:30 a.m. motel shuttle bus to Hubert H. Humphrey Airport to be there by 5 a.m. 

We were greeted by a welcome committee for the Honor Flight attendees on Sun Country Charter Flight SY 8603 to Reagan Airport, Washington, D. C. (Sun Country has named each of their airplanes after a lake in Minnesota—we were on Bemidji.) After boarding passes, Norwegian juice, handshakes, hugs and thanks for serving the great USA, we were up, up, and away at 6 a.m.

There were 75 World War II and/or Korean War veterans (I am a Korean War veteran), with each veteran having a guardian (Gaylen Johnson, formerly of Albert Lea, was my guardian) and the youngest veteran being eighty years old. (I was one of the youngest.)

We arrived at Reagan Airport at about 9:20 a.m. Eastern Time. As we walked into the terminal the reception was fantastic. There were school kids, men, women, music—even a ladies’ choir. The choir sang each branch of the Military Song. When they sang “Anchors Aweigh,” (US Navy) I joined in the singing as I was in the US Navy. The lady director thanked me as per her opinion they needed a male voice. 

Many shook my hand with a hug and a, “Thank you for your service.”

And now, do any of you readers have an idea: What is 514?

Onto your bus—either a red, white or blue bus that you were to be on the rest of the day (I was white). The bus tour (in an all-daylight rain) took us to the Iwo Jima Memorial, the Air Force Memorial, the Women’s Memorial with a box lunch, a drive by the Washington Monument and the White House, onto the World War II Memorial, Korean War Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, Vietnam Memorial, changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier plus taking down the flag, the evening meal at the Knights of Columbus, back to Reagan Airport leaving at 10:10 p.m. on Sun Country Charter Flight SY 8604 (we were on the airplane named Jefferson) arriving at 10:30 p.m. at the Hubert H. Humphrey Airport. 

As we entered the airport another fantastic reception with hugs, a handshake, “thanks for serving” welcome home. Wow. (Even two Vikings cheerleaders were there.)

And now, do any of you readers have an idea: What is 514?

What were my choked-up highs on the trip? 

• On the flight to D. C., when it was announced “mail call”; all the mail from relatives, friends, and school kids (Hugo, Turtle Lake and Oneka Elementary were some of the schools)

• The Korean and Vietnam Memorials

• The 514 people that shook my hand from Hubert H. Humphrey Airport to D. C. and back

In closing, we must all remember as it says on the Korean War Memorial: “Freedom is not free.”


Bob is a retired AAL (Aid Association for Lutherans) agent, currently working on his master’s degree in Volunteering. His wife, Genie, is a retired RN, currently working on her doctor’s degree in Volunteering. They have two children, Deb in North Carolina, and Dan in Vermont. Bob says if you enjoy his column, let him know. If you don’t enjoy it, keep on reading, it can get worse. Words of wisdom: There is always room for God.

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